Why “effort doesn’t always equal outcome”

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Airtable’s Howie Liu joins CNBC’s Jon Fortt to discuss facing hard truths and making strategic decisions as a startup scales

Airtable’s Howie Liu joins CNBC’s Jon Fortt to discuss facing hard truths and making strategic decisions as a startup scales

This week, CNBC TechCheck Co-Anchor Jon Fortt sat down with Airtable Co-Founder and CEO Howie Liu for a full hour to discuss the current economic climate, the future of Airtable’s platform, and what he’s learned about becoming a better leader when your startup grows from 20 to more than 1,000 people. 

You can watch the full interview here, or catch some of the highlights below: 

Focusing on the long term, especially in an uncertain environment

“Enterprise software, while not immune to the current climate, can continue to grow if we’re able to deliver on ROI for our customers.”  

“We’re focused on what the business will look like in two, three, four years and are thinking about how we can become a category winner in the long term. The fact that we’re private and don't have to worry about turbulence of the current market allows us to think about that long term outcome and how to come out of this downturn stronger.” 

“Now we’re actively reaching out to enterprises and helping them map out their processes in Airtable...There’s a delicate balance of leveraging our roots as a horizontal platform, maintaining that breadth of applicability, but finding these key areas, like marketing and product operations and figuring out how to replicate success for the next customer.”

On becoming a better leader

“When I wanted to come up with an idea in college for a company I knew intrinsically that if you want to scale your impact, provide meaningful value to the world, and be successful you have to find something big enough where you have a differentiated ability to uniquely create value in that space.”

“It took a lot of incremental validation for Airtable to come to fruition. I had to think about why hasn’t someone else built this product I'm imagining? What about the here and now, what about me is unique, and why should this product exist? Because if we’re really going to deliver on the promise of democratizing software creation the product needs to be super intuitive and powerful.” 

“Organizationally at the beginning of the pandemic we were still immature. We were around 100 people. We hadn't built out our executive team. It was a scary time. I had just done a leadership 360 and I learned I was micromanaging too much, and at that scale it wasn’t working. There’s that awkward transition phase where you go from a small single team of 20 people then you get to many teams and actual departments. I needed to elevate myself, let a few balls be dropped and avoid getting caught up in only putting out fires.”

“One of the biggest secrets of hiring is you can have all the facts of a problem but ultimately there's never a clear answer to any decision. The difference between the best leaders is they have judgment – instinct built up from years of experience.”

“A key learning for me is that effort doesn’t always equal outcomes…Creating the right frameworks for accountability and making the right hires drives better outcomes. I realized building out our C-suite was so important and that you don’t have to do everything yourself, you have to build the system that will influence acceleration of the output.”

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